Ask Scary Mommy: Why Do I Feel So Guilty About Feeling Sad Right Now?
Are you struggling with your complicated feelings about all the cancellations and missed events right now? Are you feeling ashamed that you feel sad even though your family is healthy and safe? What do you do with all those conflicting feelings?
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Dear Scary Mommy,
Due to coronavirus, our family had to cancel our vacation next month. I cried on Easter morning because we couldn’t spend the day with our extended family, like usual. And I’m devastated that my eighth grader won’t get the big school celebration we’ve been planning the whole year. I know that I’m lucky to still have a job and to be safe at home. People are dying and losing their jobs, and I feel super guilty for even feeling sad about missing these things. So on top of sadness, I also feel ashamed of myself. How can I get over it?
First of all, let me say this: you are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.
So many of us are suffering losses. Loss of normalcy. Loss of expectations. Loss of income or financial security. Loss of vacations, parties, and other things we’ve been looking forward to. And that sucks. Big time. David Kessler, a renowned expert on grief, reminds us that because of all these losses, what so many of us are feeling right now is grief.
“We’re feeling a number of different griefs,” he told Harvard Business Review. “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different.”
It’s important to acknowledge what you’re feeling. “There is something powerful about naming this as grief,” Kessler told Harvard Business Review. “It helps us feel what’s inside of us. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion.”
But even more than feeling the emotion, it’s important to not feel shame about that emotion. I recently listened to Brené Brown interview Kessler on her podcast and it really helped me understand some of the feelings I was having. We had a “bucket list” vacation planned for this summer, which will most likely be canceled or postponed. I felt guilty and ashamed for feeling sad about it knowing that so many people have it so much worse.
But Kessler shut all that down. On her podcast, Brown acknowledged the “ranking” we inherently do when it comes to struggle and hardship. Kessler reiterated that we are all feeling so many losses right now, so many in fact that we can’t even list them all. But he also stressed – and this is important — that we can’t compare grief or loss.
“The worst loss is always yours,” said Kessler, who in addition to 40+ years of experience as a grief counselor also suffered the loss of his own son.
“One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we’re the first generation to have feelings about our feelings,” Kessler said. “We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad.”
So let yourself feel sad. Let yourself grieve.
But one suggestion: You still need to be aware of how you express your feelings, of how you grieve. It’s important to be sensitive to the pain of others around us. Before venting to a friend, you may want to check in with them to make sure they have the emotional bandwidth to hear what you’re saying. It’s not a good idea to cry about missing an Easter celebration to someone who’s family member is in the hospital or who just lost their job. And please, please, do not complain about missing a vacation on social media. Just don’t.
Instead, you could find a trusted friend or family member who you can be open, honest and vulnerable with, and you can give each other permission to vent with each other about things no matter how small. You could write in a journal. You could listen to Brene Brown’s podcast with David Kessler. Honestly, it was like balm for my soul. But whatever you do, don’t feel shame for grieving, for mourning the losses you’re experiencing.
We are all grieving right now, in one way or another.
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